Engineering may be one of the STEM fields, but getting into and developing your career in engineering is far from straightforward. To help you build a thriving career in engineering without burnout out or putting yourself and your career in a precarious situation, you need to go in with the right approach.
Engineers never work alone. Working in a team is how you can get projects completed and how real magic happens. Regardless of whether you are a civil engineer, a chemical engineer, a mechanical engineer, software engineer, or even work within physics fields, the same concepts will help you improve your career prospects without burning out or putting yourself in a risky position that could damage your reputation before it even really takes off.
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4 Top Tips to Help You Thrive in Your Engineering Career
Table of Contents
- 1 4 Top Tips to Help You Thrive in Your Engineering Career
- 2 How to Properly Transition into Management
- 3 What Can You Gain from a Masters in Engineering Management?
- 4 How You Can Further Improve Your Leadership Skills
- 5 To Conclude: Take an Active Approach towards Your Career
There are many top tips and pieces of advice to help you build a career in engineering; tips that are held by incredible engineers in their field today:
Be Valuable, but not Critical
You always want to be valuable. Value can be found in the work and in the results you provide to your team and to your employer. Being valuable means people looking to you and trusting you to not just get the job done, but to do it well.
While you always want to be valuable, being critical comes with dangerous risks. Being critical means that you and you alone are the only one that can get the job done. This may sound like a laudable position to be in until your personal life and needs start to interfere with your ability to provide results. Dangerously sick with COVID? Have a personal emergency? When you are critical on a project and something goes wrong there is only one person your employer can turn to, even if you should not be working at all at that time.
In short, your team needs to be able to survive without you for a few days. Being valuable means being able to do the job best out of everyone, but you never want to be the only one who can do it at all. Train your team to be able to hold down the fort so that you can also have personal days. This will not ever mean that you put your career at risk. Rather, it is one of the first steps that you will take as a leader.
A good way to look at it is that value is added, but being critical means you also become a failure point. You want to build your career off of great results and good work, not on the fact that you managed to avoid failure on your own.
Don’t Go into Management Unless it’s Right for You
While management is a great move forward for many engineers, it is not a role that should be pressured or forced. Great leaders are ones that are ready to take on that mantle and the hard work that goes into it. They can learn many top skills and improve their ability to lead and manage a team or even a business with many great tools, like a masters in engineering, but if they feel like they are being forced or pressured the results will simply not be the same.
The pressure can come internally as well. If you don’t feel like you are ready or you do not want to manage a team, then there are plenty of ways to progress your career without taking up that mantle.
The biggest issue of course is that many who are thrust into engineering management are not given the tools they need to succeed. Being able to choose for yourself and first complete a management degree does provide you with the tools and knowledge for success. It also prepares you for what to expect and how to lead large projects successfully without falling into common pitfalls.
Management is difficult, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. Avoiding jumping into a management position before you are trained or feel ready is an important tip for those who want to continue to make steady progress without the risk of falling back.
Managers don’t just need to be professionally prepared; they need to be emotionally prepared. Working on a project individually means steady progress until the project is finished or cancelled. With managers, you have a lot more to consider and a larger amount of pressure and responsibility.
Being prepared emotionally and professionally is a must. Feeling pressured to be in this situation is a fast way towards burnout. If you intend to go into management eventually then avoid this by finding a great online degree that you can complete while you continue to work as part of the team. Doing this early on will not only prepare you for the next step, it can help you make it sooner and with greater confidence.
Know that Growth Isn’t a Ladder
While many careers can see their future like rungs on a ladder, this isn’t the case for engineers. Engineering as a whole is a much more complicated career and at the same time far more freeing. Three are many ways to grow as an engineer. You can go from becoming a technical lead to a domain expert, then into engineering manager, back to being just a domain expert, then go into higher levels of management and back again.
Being an expert and a manager are not parallel, never to touch. Rather they tend to intersect more often than you may think. The only consideration you need to make is that jumping from manager to expert depending on the project’s requirements needs the right amount of work to be put in at the start of your career.
In fact, to always be able to make the right choice for your career based on the project or challenge ahead of you, it’s a good idea to forget about your career track or making the next step. Rather than push for future advancement, learn. Focus on developing your skillset and your knowledge and building up a repertoire of skills that will allow you to adapt and seamlessly transition into the roles that you need, as you need them.
You need to build on the engineering fundamentals, rather than try to push for new roles prematurely. Being a great manager means understanding the work and being able to envision the entire process from start to finish. By skipping those engineering years or not investing the time and energy to develop your experience as an engineer you actually run the risk of being a poorer quality manager overall.
Though you will want to change jobs in order to push for higher roles and better salaries, do note that you may not get the most out of any one job for a few years. At minimum you should aim to stay with a company for two to three years, even four if you find that you have plenty of growth and learning opportunities. This isn’t just because of opportunities that are only available when you know a company well, but also because it takes time to really learn a system inside and out.
You should also be patient when it comes to really learning and absorbing the fundamentals. Don’t simply jump on whatever is trending of the latest new tech unless you have a firm grasp of the fundamentals first. Aim for the most multi-threaded applications and you’ll be ready to adapt more readily to new tech and development.
Know Your Systems if You Want to Lead
If you want to become a lead in anything you need to be intimately familiar with the systems you will be using. Know how they can break down, know how they can be improved, and know how a team can and should be using them for the best results. That being said, there is the risk of being trapped or backing yourself into a corner.
A good way to tell is that you have stopped learning, or worse, have stopped investigating or building better solutions. Becoming complacent is a sure sign that it is time to move on, especially in a fast and ever-changing field like engineering.
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How to Properly Transition into Management
First-time engineering managers have a lot of pressure on their shoulders, and many get started without the right training or approach. New managers tend to overcompensate, work even after their day is over, and have difficulties in properly managing a team so that everyone is thriving and providing excellent results.
While you can learn on the job there are far better ways to approach engineering management. You position yourself above other new managers in job markets, but you can kick off this new phase of your career by falling back on expert training. How? You earn an engineering management degree.
What Can You Gain from a Masters in Engineering Management?
When it comes to propping up your engineering experience with management experience one of the best options is by far an online masters degree in Engineering Management. It’s natural to not know how to lead a team effectively. There is a reason why managers have a very different role to the rest of the team and why they earn so much. Not only do you need to know and understand the work that needs to be done, you need to know how to get the most out of a team and even manage the administrative duties like financials and budgeting.
The go-to in the past was for engineers to earn an MBA, but this did not properly capture all the challenges that engineers in particular face.
The new engineering management degree covers a wide range of essentials like budgets and financing, project management, people management and leadership, analytics-driven decision making, and also product innovation and operations management.
Unlike MBAs the concentrations you can focus on are directly applicable to all areas of engineering. You can concentrate your degree with a focus in either Data Analytics, Advanced Project Management, product innovation management, or operations management, to suit your career and needs best.
How You Can Further Improve Your Leadership Skills
Being professionally trained in management can provide a lot of comfort and direction, but your job isn’t done yet. Putting what you learn to use and getting the most out of your team is another challenge entirely. You also need to improve your communication and listening abilities so that you can both direct and understand your team and their needs better.
You need to inspire your team and help them solve problems efficiently, together. One of the biggest pitfalls that many new engineering managers fall into is hiring more instead of managing better. Bringing on too many people at once can actually make it difficult for a team to work together properly, and can cause more problems than they solve.
While you will learn a lot while actually managing there are many ways to improve your leadership skills and communication skills on the side. From reading books to even finding a coach that will help you speak more confidently and more concisely, there are plenty of ways to improve your soft leadership skills.
No matter what you learn from others, however, you will always need to adapt and find your own leadership style. This is how you stand out and how you really find your stride in engineering, and any other field you may end up working in.
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To Conclude: Take an Active Approach towards Your Career
Being forced or pressured into any situation is not ideal, nor is being boxed into a role that doesn’t quite fit. In order to really thrive in your career you need to take an active approach, and that means more than just job hunting when the time is right. You want to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to how you manage, your management style, and even the scope of the project. As a leader those working under you look to you to care for their best interests, but you also need to look out for your own. Be a hard negotiator on every project and for every new job so that you can really customize your career in the direction that is right for you.